Three years ago, the Ohio General Assembly enacted the most restrictive wind turbine siting requirements in the nation, bringing most new wind development in the state to a standstill. Although industry leaders warned of the potential consequences, the new setback language was inserted into a budget bill – with no testimony or debate – and signed by the Governor. With nearly $4.2 billion of wind investments at stake, it’s time to roll back Ohio’s wind setback. Unfortunately, Ohio lawmakers let one opportunity to restore balance to wind siting slip away. Now, the best shot they have is a legislative vehicle full of danger for the advanced energy industry.
Prior to the change in 2014, a wind turbine was allowed to be located no closer to a property line than 1.1 times the height of the blade, or roughly 550 feet. Setbacks like this are intended to protect people and property, as the original requirement did, against the risk of a turbine failing and topping over. But Ohio lawmakers rewrote the setback such that all future project were beholden to more restrictive guidelines that applied to residential areas, more than doubling the distance from the nearest property line to 1,300 feet. This made securing land for wind development almost impossible.
Since then, companies large and small have found it difficult to achieve their renewable energy goals in Ohio. Barriers like this excessive setback requirement have stifled what could be billions of dollars in investment and sent to other states jobs and revenue that could support local communities, schools, and hospitals. As a growing number of companies make similar commitments, Ohio will find itself at a competitive disadvantage compared to neighboring states.
This legislative session, proponents of wind energy, including leading national and statewide business groups, came together to champion a return to the pre-2014 setback requirement via an amendment to a two-year state budget bill, just as the onerous restriction had become law. The Ohio Senate took the lead, adopting the amendment after extensive public hearings, which demonstrated outsized support for wind development by county officials, Ohio residents, and corporate purchasers. Unfortunately, the Ohio House wouldn’t agree to the amendment, even threatening to shut down state government rather than approve a budget containing the provision.
House leadership, which now includes Rep. (and former Senator) Bill Seitz, insisted that the wind setback issue be addressed in HB 114 rather than the state budget. But that bill, which passed the House earlier this year, would kill the advanced energy industry in Ohio. Much as Seitz had tried to do in the Senate previously, his bill would turn the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) into “voluntary goals,” rather than enforceable requirements, and permit large energy users to opt-out of energy efficiency programs. Though the Senate shows no interest in taking up the bill, it may be the only way the Ohio legislature can fix the wind setback this year.
The stage is now set for battle this fall, with the wind setback fix used by the House to extract concessions from the Senate on the RPS and EERS. In addition, two other bills could get into the mix – one to provide financial support for struggling utility First Energy with nuclear energy credits, and another to allow Ohio’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to get cost recovery on their share of flagging coal-fired Ohio Valley Electricity Corp. plants – could conceivably find their way into the legislation, along with AEP’s rumored (but not yet seen) draft legislation to allow new rate-based generation, a small step toward reregulation.
A lot is in play in Ohio. We will be looking for Gov. Kasich to support a return to reasonable wind turbine setback requirements and stand firm against legislation that degrades the RPS and EERS. Needless to say, his hands will be full as he enters his final year in office. So will ours.
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